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Charging Forward

Since he started at Providence Day School in 1991, History Department Chair Ted Dickson’s classroom has relocated numerous times — among the many stops: the Counseling Center, Community Room in Overcash Hall, Lecture Hall in Dickson-Hemby Technology Center, the modular units known as RELOs and finally the West Wing.

When it first went up in 2006, the West Wing was a welcome albeit temporary replacement for the aging RELOs. Plans for a permanent humanities building were in the works, but the financial crisis of 2007-08 delayed the endeavor.

In the interim, PDS has grown tremendously — in enrollment, in facilities, in excellence and stature. And research on the benefits of collaborative learning spaces has become more prominent.

There is a collective agreement that it’s past time for a change on campus.

Thus, a four-story, 80,000-square-foot Academic Center intentionally designed to enhance teaching and learning will arise at the heart of the campus between Dickson-Hemby and the Thompson-Jones Library.

“This is the next step in the development of Providence Day as a world-class educational institution,” said Dickson. “A new building will enable us to leverage our energy and expertise to continue to explore teaching and learning and develop even stronger relationships with students.”

The new building is but one piece of an exciting endeavor. The Charging Forward comprehensive campaign is a projected five-year, $27 million initiative with three investment priorities: Annual Fund, endowment and capital projects.

The capital projects include construction of the Academic Center as well as a Campus Gateway building and parking deck. PDS seeks to double its endowment and grow the Annual Fund, which supplements each year’s operating budget in support of student programs, campus resources and faculty professional development.

PDS officially kicked off the public phase of the Charging Forward campaign with a celebration in the Mosack Athletic Center Sept. 21. The approximately 750 people in attendance cheered as $15,123,196 — the number in commitments raised during the campaign’s “quiet” phase — flashed onscreen. As of Nov. 1, the total was $15,542,940.

“What a remarkable moment in time this is for our school and the Providence Day family,” said Dr. Glyn Cowlishaw, Head of School. “We are here to celebrate how far we’ve come, and the incredible opportunities on the horizon for this community.  Its time to write the next chapter in our history.”


Collaborating for Change

The journey began in 2007 when a group of teachers, known as the “dream team,” visited other schools to look at their building designs. They collected ideas and provided input about classroom arrangement, furniture and office spaces.

Since then, PDS conducted experiments with future teaching and learning spaces. A classroom in the West Wing was the first prototype, with movable desks and chairs that could be easily reconfigured to promote group work and collaboration. The Thompson-Jones Library underwent renovations last summer, providing more innovative spaces for collective and individual learning.

“PDS has greatly taken into consideration the needs of students as well as teachers with the new spaces, optimizing learning and student/teacher life,” said 10th-grader Maddie Miller.

PDS recently enlisted a design firm, WONDER by Design, to work with administrators, teachers and students, including Maddie, to use design thinking methodology in on-campus workshops to conceive their ideal teaching-learning environments.

“We spoke a lot about the importance of staying relaxed, happy and having wanderlust as students, as well as what students needed to achieve all of the above,” she said.

The goal is the Academic Center, like the library, will emphasize working in smaller, collaborative groups across disciplines and ages. It is an opportunity for faculty to remain innovative in the ways they teach and encourage their students to learn.

“While I am excited about seeing the new classrooms, I am more excited about the non-classroom spaces,” said Dickson, “including places for informal learning and teaching and larger office areas that will provide opportunities for both privacy and collaboration.”

The addition of more comfortable gathering places “was a big topic that the school leaders understood was important to the students,” said 11th-grader Grant Buchmiller.

History and social studies teacher Andrea Gowin believes such spaces will be motivational and inspire learning.

“The building will promote active learning, faculty and student interaction, and set the tone for education on campus,” she said. “As a teacher, I look forward to increasing cross-curricular collaboration and space for a multitude of student learning styles.”

Although as a junior Caroline Bruns won’t attend class in the Academic Center prior to graduation, she was happy to participate in the workshops. She saw it as helping to shape the future of PDS for future generations, such as her younger brother, 5th-grader Teddy.

“Seeing the virtual tour of the new buildings and improvements to campus made me excited for him,” she said.

Such changes will enhance the long-term quality of student life on campus, said Buchmiller. “I really feel that students will appreciate these changes for the future.”

Shaping and Securing the Future

The other components of the campaign are equally important to the school.

Doubling the school’s endowment is a direct step toward securing the legacy of PDS for future generations of students and faculty. A healthy endowment allows PDS to plan accordingly while having the ability to address any unforeseen issues that might arise. 

“Fiscal sustainability must now become and remain a priority alongside continued growth of the school’s Annual Fund,” said Jeffrey Appel, Associate Head of School for Institutional Advancement.

Growing the Annual Fund helps further bridge the gap between tuition and the cost to educate students by providing unrestricted support to the operating budget.

“Providence Day School is a top-performing school and a valuable asset to the greater Charlotte community,” said Cathy Bessant, the Charging Forward campaign’s national chair and alumni parent. “We are a proud Charger family, and the Charging Forward campaign will ensure other families can experience this dynamic community.”

It has been 15 years since PDS engaged in a significant capital campaign, and Charging Forward is the largest fundraising goal undertaken in the school’s 45-year history.

“The campaign is indeed a bold effort for our school and our community,” said Dr. Cowlishaw. “At its successful conclusion, the Charging Forward campaign will be transformational for our campus and for future generations of students.”

“With the Charging Forward comprehensive campaign, PDS intends to build on the school’s strong culture of philanthropy that supported past initiatives for the Thompson-Jones Library, Dickson-Hemby Technology Center, Mosack Athletic Center, Overcash Stadium, Brinkley Family Dining Hall and McMahon Fine Arts Center, among many others,” said Appel.

The support of the PDS community is an integral part of the atmosphere of the new building and the outcome of this campaign, said Gowin. 

“This campaign is a catalyst for the Providence Day community and the direction of where Providence Day will be in the future,” she said.

Maddie believed the support for the Charging Forward campaign is another example of the pride that is so deeply rooted in the school.

“For each generation that graduates here, the family of alumni grows and is able to support the current attending students,” she said. “The campaign is just another way that students and alumni support each other from our ‘home base’ of Providence Day.”

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